"Earth Hour" and the Dark Ages

by Don Boudreaux on March 29, 2008

in Energy, Environment, Myths and Fallacies, Reality Is Not Optional, Religion

The World Wildlife Fund arranged today’s “Earth Hour” — a pledge by many people from around the world to turn off lights for an hour.  The following is from a page on the WWF website:

Earth Hour is a global event created to symbolize that each one of us, working together, can make a positive impact on climate change – no matter who we are or where we live.

Created by WWF in Sydney, Australia in 2007, Earth Hour has grown from a single event into a global movement. In 2008, millions of people, businesses, governments and civic organizations in nearly 200 cities around the globe will turn out for Earth Hour. More than 35 US cities will participate, including the US flagships–Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco.

Earth Hour brings together communities, local governments, corporate and nongovernmental organizations to heighten awareness about climate change and to inspire our nation to take practical actions to reduce their own carbon footprints.

Reading about the WWF’s “Earth Hour” — and hearing on the radio and t.v. too many mindless endorsements of this stunt, and seeing Google’s special black “Earth Hour” design for its opening page today — I sent the following letter to Carter Roberts, President of the WWF:

Dear Mr. Roberts:

You and members of your organization worry that industrialization and economic growth are harming the earth’s environment.  I worry that the intensifying hysteria about the state of the environment – and that the resulting hostility to economic growth – might harm humankind’s prospects for comfortable, healthy, enjoyable, and long lives.

So I commend you on your “Earth Hour” effort.  Persuading people across the globe to turn off lights for one hour supplies the perfect symbol for modern environmentalism: a collective effort to return humankind to the dark ages.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

By the way, of course, the WWF should award some special prize to the North Korean government, for that government keeps North Koreans not in any meager “Earth Hour,” or even “Earth Day,” but in what WWFers might call “Earth Decades” — very little light ever. This picture of the Korean peninsula speaks volumes — the Dark Ages today; a society keeping its carbon footprint tiny.  Of course, in doing so it keeps itself also desperately poor, often even to the point of starvation.

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Gil March 29, 2008 at 10:46 am

I actually agree with D. Boudreaux on this one. I remember reading how a wag pointed out that there are still plenty of people who live the way our people did centuries ago – they're generally referred as 'developing countries'. I personally prefer to hear about new technological developments which could have the capacity for having all the modern advantages without the polluting disadvantages than hearing about 'going back to a simpler, gentler way of living'.

After all, the last time everyone lived in the quaint time of organic farms was the Medeval period and the world population was around 500 million . . .

Ryan March 29, 2008 at 11:35 am

I love the last paragraph of your letter. It briefy encapsulates what environmentalism is all about, plus it's pretty clever.

Mesa Econoguy March 29, 2008 at 11:39 am

Too bad this entire movement is based on fake science.

PS, I am unaware that we in Phoenix will participate. If I do become aware, I will load the family into my suv, and go for an extra long drive, lowering the windows and cranking both music and ac.

Gil March 29, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Furthermore, I remember a suggestion by a local politician (I can't remember for which city) who proposed turning off street lights for a while during the night(s?) when Halley's Comet was at its peak visibility (April 1986). But it was rejected for fear it would allow criminals to roam free under the cover of virtual darkness.

Mesa Econoguy March 29, 2008 at 12:14 pm

And to compensate for this stupidity, I am performing monthly maintenance on all of our computers on the network, and have them fired up. This will cause this room to heat up fairly significantly, so I will crank the house ac.

And I will be comfortable.

Screw Google.

William Werner March 29, 2008 at 12:34 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of earth hour. It represents one of the most crude methods of achieving environmental goals: by compelling people (either through guilt or delusions of grandeur) to engage in irrational acts of self-denial that will probably not produce any meaningful reduction in pollution anyway. Furthermore, it represents a very narrow-minded perception of the conflict between environmental and economic goals; namely, that they are a zero-sum game, and one set can only be achieved by dominating the other in public action and discourse.
While, unfortunately, I cannot express surprise at the WWF adopting such an attitude, I was somewhat surprised to find the same sediments expressed here: talking about how earth hour was the perfect metaphor for modern environmentalism returning us to the dark ages. As someone who has studied both environmental biology and (to a lesser degree) economics, I find it disheartening how often environmentalists and economists feel they have to take antagonistic attitudes towards each other. Just as there are some real dangers in pretending that we are destabilizing the ecosystems that support us, there are also many ways we can go about compensating; some of which incur much less economic collateral damage than others. Additionally, not all environmental goals connect back to human welfare, and are probably not worth making significant economic sacrifices for. How well will these distinctions be made in a polarized discourse?

William Werner March 29, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Edit: in pretending that we are *not* destablizing ecosystems

My apologies for the mistake the first time

Methinks March 29, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Mesa,

My plan for earth hour is to turn on every light, TV and any other electronic piece of equipment to full capacity at home and as well as on the trading floor (we have some unresolved tech issues scheduled for this weekend anyway). I plan to produce such glow that my @#&% house will be visible from space. Aliens will think it's a supernova.

Incentives are bitch.

Brian-NJ March 29, 2008 at 1:05 pm

I do not agree or disagree with either WWF or Don Boudreaux as to the fruitful outcome of earth hour, but I do observe something critical which doesn't seem to garner attention in this blog. It is very obvious to myself and any individual that has analyzed anything that when an observer is detached from the reality of which some call "facts on the ground" they do not make prudent decisions regarding the issue. I am not referring to Boudreaux being detached, I am referring to the mass of people who may or may not be willing participants in this earth hour. Having something like this earth hour (my only familiarity is what I read here) may have a very positive effect on the minds of those participating. Imagine the modern world dipping into the dark ages for an hour, it could be a very strong moment of clarity for the minds which understand the implications of earth hour. This clarity would be a wonderful stimulus for the development of new methods to maintain our modern style of living. There is very bad science out there, but unfortunately there is very bad philosophy out there to jade good science. All motion needs a cause, and medium between what is and what could become, earth hour could have an impact that is static, like returning us to the dark ages, or it can have a dynamic response, like the realization that energy is not a constant ad infinitum.

I favor anything that is voluntary which can produce this dynamic possibility. I would not favor the mandate of earth hour by a government unto its citizens, I think the natural world mandates these exercises intuitively, humans need not mess with natural order.

John Payne March 29, 2008 at 1:09 pm

I participated in Earth Hour today. All the lights in my apartment were off for many hours. It's called sleeping.

Sam Grove March 29, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Perhaps we can encourage people to look at Earth Hour as a reminder of all the blessings we enjoy as a result of our industry and technological development.

Jacob Oost March 29, 2008 at 2:26 pm

William, as long as the environmentalism movement is hijacked by socialists, expect that kind of categorical antagonism towards quote-environmentalists-unquote.

William Werner March 29, 2008 at 2:43 pm

And I can see why people might be categorically antagonistic. But it has the unfortunate consequence of leading to an us-and-them mentality between two groups with very different bodies of knowledge that should be collaborating and cooperating. I would contend that claiming that environmentalism has been hijacked by socialists is an overstatement, but if we go with it anyway for now, why do you think the socialists were able to hijack it in the first place?

Methinks March 29, 2008 at 3:03 pm

William,

Because once the socialists were unable to claim that socialism is superior due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, they needed to find another excuse to inflict socialism. Since the environmentalists wish to impose their agenda on the unwilling, the match between socialists and environmentalists comes naturally. They were made for each other.

I'm naturally antagonistic toward anyone wishing to impose their will on me. However, I have solar powered outdoor lights, all my flashlights are hand-crank, my lights are on dimmers, I'm a stickler for turning off lights, I keep my thermostat high in summer and low in winter, I prefer to walk instead of drive whenever I can and I don't run my washing machine unless I have a full load. I plan to incorporate skylights to the house I'm building to reduce my use of electricity and collect rain water to water my plants. I do this not to save mother earth but because I like natural light and I'm cheap.

liberty March 29, 2008 at 3:20 pm

It is in fact true that the "new left" and former/current socialists were a dominant force in creating, and are still a dominant force in funding and driving, the (more radical parts of) environmental movement. They are also (still) among the more radical union leaders, anti-globalization, feminists, (what remains of) black power, and various other one-issue groups.

There is a natural synergy for anti-globalization, union/labor power, and environmentalism because they can push their economic agenda, and don't need to say that it amounts to socialism, since that has more narrow appeal since the fall. The other movements allow them to push their social agenda and social control by government.

Mesa Econoguy March 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Methinks is awesome.

Sam Grove March 29, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Comments from the founder of Greenpeace.

Speedmaster March 29, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Well said, Dr. Boudreaux. Slam dunk!! ;-)

Dano March 29, 2008 at 6:58 pm

First Earth Day and now an Earth Hour is added. Inflation?

FreedomLover March 29, 2008 at 6:59 pm

liberty:

what all those disparate groups have in common is one thing: hate for America. To them it must be brought down at any cost. That's why they never engage in debate. A real, open and honest debate would reveal all the facts of socialism and many undecideds would turn away from the anti-American crowd forever. They can't afford that, so they engage in vitriol and demonization non-stop.

liberty March 29, 2008 at 7:41 pm

FreedomLover,

I wouldn't take it so personally. Its not just America they hate, its all capitalists.

Tim G March 29, 2008 at 8:01 pm

I will not be participating in the latest bit of ecoterrorism tonite!

mnm March 29, 2008 at 8:16 pm

Methinks is awesome.

Posted by: Mesa Econoguy

I concur.

Scott March 29, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Persuading people across the globe to turn off lights for one hour supplies the perfect symbol for modern environmentalism: a collective effort to return humankind to the dark ages.

ZZZZZING!! HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES!!

What a beautifully simple analysis. Things have long ago passed the point of ridiculous absurdity. Thanks for helping to point it out in such a pithy manner.

Jacob March 29, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Brilliant comments Dr. Bordreaux. Brilliant.

Michael Mace March 29, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Yes, let us all emulate the monstrous regime of North Korea.

Russell Nelson March 30, 2008 at 3:09 am

I turned extra lights on, to celebrate the increase in prosperity available to us through the use of non-animal energy.

brotio March 30, 2008 at 4:40 am

I have a feeling that before this thread is exhausted, Vidyohs will have another entry for his list.

fundamentalist March 30, 2008 at 9:29 am

I have often wondered why the Left worships Cuba in spite of its extreme poverty, then it hit me: they worship Cuba BECAUSE of its poverty. As Dr. Boudreaux points out, the N Koreans aren't damaging the environment, in the minds of environmentalists anyway, because they are poor. In the same way, Cubans are too poor to afford cars, large houses, and lots of lighting, so they have a very, very tiny environmental "foot print". Socialists used to want just equality through government ownership. Since their adoption of enviromentalism they want equality and poverty (a return to the Dark Ages) in order to protect the planet. That also explains their infatuation with pre-modern Europe: poverty is good.

fundamentalist March 30, 2008 at 9:30 am

I have often wondered why the Left worships Cuba in spite of its extreme poverty, then it hit me: they worship Cuba BECAUSE of its poverty. As Dr. Boudreaux points out, the N Koreans aren't damaging the environment, in the minds of environmentalists anyway, because they are poor. In the same way, Cubans are too poor to afford cars, large houses, and lots of lighting, so they have a very, very tiny environmental "foot print". Socialists used to want just equality through government ownership. Since their adoption of enviromentalism they want equality and poverty (a return to the Dark Ages) in order to protect the planet. That also explains their infatuation with pre-modern Europe: poverty is good.

John Dewey March 30, 2008 at 9:38 am

The hostility towards environmentalists I sense here is probably warranted. But let's not forget that environmentalists have championed important causes over the past four decades.

The quality of air and water in the U.S. is markedly better than 37 years ago. Certainly the environmentally-conscious deserve much credit for this. Not all who are environmentally-counscious are also socialists and hostile to economic growth.

The Nature Conservancy represents the other side of the environmental movement. They have:

"protected more than 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide"

How did they accomplish this?

"We pursue non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions to conservation challenges."

In the U.S., The Nature Conservancy's chief conservation method is land acquisition.

Personally, I'm a skeptic about catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. But I'm not skeptical about the harm humans have done to the planet, such as depositing millions of tons of plastic waste into the oceans, or the continued destruction of tropical rain forests. I do worry about such human-caused harm, while at the same time rejecting the call for halting economic growth.

Per Kurowski March 30, 2008 at 9:43 am

Congratulations!

Instead of bringing forward some better and more rational proposals that will help to avoid that hysteria that indeed clouds the environmental issues and could cause the remedies to be worse than the sickness, and help the world to be able to use scarce resources wisely and effective… you live up to your role as an educator, as a beacon of light… and just make fun of it all.

“Return humankind to the dark ages” “Gee what a splendidly witty phrase!” “Got to post it!”

Has it not briefly passed through your head that you are just mirroring the hysteria on the other side? And, if you do not think that we indeed have a very serious environmental problem on our hands and that we need to solve it with lots and lots of rationality and even that might not prove to be enough, well then might I recommend perhaps summer school, Dear Mr. PhD?

John Dewey March 30, 2008 at 9:50 am

methinks: "Since the environmentalists wish to impose their agenda on the unwilling"

That is a broad generalization. Many environmentalists prefer to use persuasion.

Don't think for a moment that environmentalists are the only group who seek the power of government in the "green" versus profits confrontation. Corporations and business owners have bribed politicians in their efforts to continue fouling the earth.

I'm not sure how libertarians feel about air and water pollution. But how can the collective voice of the people – acting through government – not be involved in preventing uncaring polluters from destroying our air and water?

Methinks, if plastic bags are cheaper than biodegradable paper ones, would you prefer the former?

Chris March 30, 2008 at 10:05 am

Insane.

If anything, we'll be using far more electricity in the future than we do now. With oil prices where they are, plug-in cars will become increasingly more practical, and that will require a lot of new power production.

The environmentalists would be better off pushing for French-style nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants than this bizarre head-in-the-sand attitude.

Methinks March 30, 2008 at 10:28 am

Shucks, mnm & Mes…you make me blush…right back atcha.

That is a broad generalization. Many environmentalists prefer to use persuasion. – John Dewey

Yes, it is a broad generalization, John. But I spout off enough on this blog and sometimes I just have to pick a stopping point. I know a few environmentalists personally and their goal is to make "environmentally friendly" alternatives more economic so that people will choose them rather than be forced to buy in. The groups they associate themselves with are of a similar mindset. But they aren't aggressive and don't seek to pass legislation or pull idiotic stunts and the enviro-terrorists and Algore are and do. They are after all, the ones who came up with the "bright" idea of forcing people to recycle paper which creates a bigger environmental hazard than making paper from scratch. It seems that half of what they do – including pushing organic farming (which requires more land and more deforestation than "conventional" methods) – is actually detrimental to the environment.

Socialism is not the only reason to want a clean environment. I don't want to wade through trash and breathe crud every day.

Methinks, if plastic bags are cheaper than biodegradable paper ones, would you prefer the former?

PLASTIC BAGS? Who the hell uses plastic bags anymore? I've been using the same canvas bags for 10 years. Plus, you don't have to wonder what to do with that giant growing ball of plastic grocery bags which in Manhattan turn into nasty, filthy kites on windy days. Canvas. Really, people, it'll change your life!

Josh Nankivel March 30, 2008 at 10:43 am

How exactly does conservation conflict with free market economic goals? All of these ad hominem attacks by Don and the comments reveal a dogmatic view and lack of a real argument. I wouldn't have even thought that conservation and dealing with our resources wisely would be counter to economic goals.

muirgeo March 30, 2008 at 10:46 am

“Return humankind to the dark ages” “Gee what a splendidly witty phrase!” “Got to post it!”

Per Kurowski

That's right Per, environmentalism is exactly the opposite of a Dark Ages mentality. It's about enlightenment.

We are the first species to recognize we have to plan our future rather then head for the cliffs like some mindless lemmings.

Poor planning is why we've spent trillions of dollars and grown a dependency on middle eastern oil. These guys sit and drink clean water and clean air completely oblivious that it was a result of good planning countering an externality the market would not correct for.

They hate the idea of a need to plan because in their simple minded BLACK an White world that goes against everything they stand for incapable of seeing shades of grey. And it's to the point were they are capable of completely denying scientific data and evidence to preserve and protect an ideology based on weak simple-minded and rigid thinking.

I didn't specifically respect the Earth hour but any one who thinks the idea of doing this one a year is pointless must also believe that church goers who do the same once a week praying to some god they believe is watching them from the clouds is even more ridiculous.

I love church. For like this morning while they are all doing their weekly equivalent of Earth hour… I'll be out hiking in nature looking at the incredible flower display with my wife being enlightened and communing with nature our true creator.

Going to church… now that is Dark Ages! But please do keep attending as it keeps my church empty the way I like it.

muirgeo March 30, 2008 at 10:55 am

Zeitgeist on religion. This is great stuff. Can start right at the 3 minute mark to get to the best part. But the whole portion of Zeitgeist on religion is great. It's fun to help people of religion realize that their religion is simply something some one made up using an adaptation of Paganism simply to control them.

Have fun at Church today all especially those of you who think your belief is some how superior to what people do when they honor Earth Hour.

Methinks March 30, 2008 at 11:27 am

I didn't specifically respect the Earth hour…. – Muirpid

What! You didn't turn off life support machines and the incubators in the NICU for an hour? Was that planned hypocrisy?

Mesa Econoguy March 30, 2008 at 11:36 am

So it turns out Phoenix did observe this ridiculous exercise, mostly downtown (where nobody lives).

The rotating restaurant at the top of the Hyatt flipped their lights off and had diners enjoy a candlelit dinner….so they could enjoy the city lights.

That’s how stupid this exercise was.

Mesa Econoguy March 30, 2008 at 11:37 am

[closing italics tag]

Environmentalism is the new religion.

Methinks March 30, 2008 at 11:44 am

Sorry for the open tag. how embarrassing.

Mesa Econoguy March 30, 2008 at 11:58 am

No worries, Methinks.

And as a religion, AGW has its own Torquemada: Al Gore. James Hansen and Michael Mann are equally insidious.

Marcus March 30, 2008 at 11:58 am

Muirgeo quoting Kurowski, "We are the first species to recognize we have to plan our future rather then head for the cliffs like some mindless lemmings.

If only he grokked what he writes.

Innovation, being a product of the human mind, is more bountiful the more human minds you have in a position to innovate.

Central planning limits innovation to only a few human minds which means much less innovation.

Central planners cannot know all the information they need to know in order to make the decisions that would be required of them. Nor do they have the processing power to process all the information if they had access to it, which they don't.

So no, it isn't free-marketers that are simple minded.

There are real market solutions to environmental issues yet left-wing environmentalists would rather focus on mindless symbolism such as 'Earth-hour'.

vidyohs March 30, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Per Kurowskiduck,

It is a fact that the Moon's garvitational pull visibly affects the oceans and therefore must be assumed to be also exerting influences on our atmosphere as well, both of which, oceans and atmosphere, are important compenents in determining our climate. Do you suppose that by landing on the moon those years ago man (evil USA) affected the pull and influence of the Moon on the Earth? Consider, it happened at just eh right moment to begin reversing the predicted Global Ice Age and they did leave footprints and tire tracks that could be acting on the Moon like dimples on a golf ball.

I bet that is what it is. Hey, it's as good a theory as what you can offer. Just should have never gone to the Moon. Maybe if we went back, hovered and erased the footprints and tire tracks we could smooth things out and keep going into our ice age.

"Has it not briefly passed through your head that you are just mirroring the hysteria on the other side? And, if you do not think that we indeed have a very serious environmental problem on our hands and that we need to solve it with lots and lots of rationality and even that might not prove to be enough, well then might I recommend perhaps summer school, Dear Mr. PhD?
Posted by: Per Kurowski | Mar 30, 2008 9:43:59 AM"

Has it not briefly passed through your head that Prof Boudreax is perfectly within context to mirror the loony left envriowhackos with his own hyperbole?

Has it briefly passed through your head that you display a massive huge humongus grand stupendous collossal ego to believe that man, measley ass piss ant man, can solve and fix the climate on any scale? Especially considering that we have only just begun to understand the relation of tides and ocean currents to natural climate changes, much less been able to command the tides and redirect the ocean currents.

Has it briefly passed through your head that the pissly measly amount of CO2 man produces pales alongside of what mother Earth produces herself, and again that ego I mentioned above moves you to tell us that we can fix it?

That's muirpidity on a level that is mind boggling.

Summer school? To paraphrase, "Per Kurowskeduck, heal thyself."

Sam Grove March 30, 2008 at 1:39 pm

The trouble with a government plan for the future is that such plans are difficult to change when it is discovered that the plan did not take into account future events which render the plan obsolete.

The USSR had lots of plans. Lots and lots of plans.

The one thing they could not plan for is change.

mnm March 30, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Going to church… now that is Dark Ages! But please do keep attending as it keeps my church empty the way I like it.

Posted by: muirgeo

Now I understand why Methinks and Mesa get so fraustrated with you muirgeo. Your an elitist. How quaint.

Sam Grove March 30, 2008 at 1:42 pm

As for the environmental movement, please read this article by the founder of Greenpeace.

Methinks March 30, 2008 at 2:00 pm

The one thing they could not plan for is change – Sam

Once that book arrives, you'll be in possession of a hysterical illustration of the fact that not only could the soviets not plan for change, but they couldn't even plan for the plan.

Sam Grove March 30, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Progressives are elitist.

The use of the label "Progessive" is meant to imply that they are forward looking while others are not, hence their fondness for 'plans' which they wish to impose on the rest of us.

As they are possessed of beneficent intention, they excuse themselves, or more likely, blame others, if their plans cause problems for 'the people' they desire to rule over, as it is obvious to them that good intentions are sufficient to produce desired results.

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